It’s finally official.
The Los Angeles Rams made Jared Goff their first pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday, making him the only Bear to be chosen first since another quarterback, Steve Bartkowski, was first pick in 1975.
Whether the Rams made the right choice — they did — is a different conversation. Instead, there are questions to be answered about how Goff’s skill-set will translate to his new team’s offense. These are especially important because for a couple of years now, the Rams have had a top defense but have been held back by a tepid offense, going 7-9 last season.
The Rams, who ran fewer plays from the shotgun than any team in the NFL last season, will certainly be a different look for Goff, who ran plays almost exclusively out of that formation at Cal.
The first name that pops into mind when thinking of the Rams’ offense is Todd Gurley. The second-year running back is going to be the NFL’s next superstar tailback, which he made clear in his first season. Gurley rushed for 1,106 yards on only 229 carries for an average of 4.8 yards per attempt. He added 10 touchdowns and flashed big play potential, with 11 rushes of 20 or more yards.
Gurley wasn’t the only Ram to contribute to what was one of the NFL’s most prolific rushing offenses. Tavon Austin, a sort of utility player for the Rams, ran the ball 52 times for an impressive 434 yards.
Coming from the Bear Raid, Goff won’t be accustomed to such a run-centric offense, but Gurley and Austin will help ease the load on the rookie quarterback’s shoulders. This will be especially important given the lack of weapons Goff will have to work with in the passing game.
Austin, who had 71 percent of his receiving yards come after the catch last season, will likely be a favorite target of Goff’s, who is used to getting the ball to his receivers in space where they can make a play. Austin’s shiftiness makes him the Rams’ most dangerous player in the passing game, but his contributions are not nearly enough for a team’s number one receiving option — he led the team with a lowly 52 receptions last season.
Other than Austin, Goff will be left throwing to the likes of Kenny Britt and Brian Quick, not exactly the most exciting bunch of receivers for a new quarterback. With this receiving corps and the Rams’ lack of other early picks, Goff is unlikely to put up big numbers this season.
His production could be slowed down more by what can optimistically be called a developing Rams’ offensive line. With deficiencies all around, Goff could find himself under siege in Los Angeles. But after playing behind a weak line at Cal, he may be up to the challenge. Goff’s footwork within the pocket helped him elude pass rushers, while his ability to throw off his back foot and on the run made him one of the most adept quarterbacks in the nation at dealing with pressure.
Having a talented passer such as Goff in the backfield gives the Rams’ offense a whole new dimension. It makes it easier to work through the issues with the offensive line. It lightens the load on the running game and makes it easier for Gurley to break free, as defenses will be more hesitant to put eight men in the box if Goff is the one slinging it instead of Case Keenum. It takes pressure off the defense, knowing there’s actually a chance to win even if they allow more than 14 points.
And that alone, that mere threat of hurting defenses, of beating them deep — one of Goff’s biggest strengths — will make the Rams a better team from day one.